Listen to this story
The open-source community is no stranger to drama. Personalities like Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman are prime examples of how the open-source community can cause personal fallouts. Stay geared, for the next target for drama is the programmers’ most-loved language – Rust.
Amidst bureaucratic issues at the Rust Foundation, the open-source community has created its own fork of the programming language, endearingly called Crab. However, the reason behind this fork belies internal problems at Rust. Read on to discover the saga of how this new kid on the block is being crippled by internal politics.
A tale of bruised egos
For context, the Rust Foundation was already on thin ice with their community. In April, the Foundation suggested changes to their trademark, which would force many open-source projects to change their names for compliance. Apart from this, the restrictive nature of the trademark policies left many members of the Rust community bitter.
Adding on to this, a new controversy has set the community on fire. The upcoming RustConf, a conference for Rust enthusiasts, has been surrounded by hearsay and rumours. This issue was then capped off by a firecracker blog written by one of the speakers at the conference.
JeanHeyd Meneide, a software engineer and project editor for the C standard, was working on an experimental feature for Rust. Reportedly, this work attracted the attention of the organisers of RustConf 2023, which then led to Meneide being invited to give a keynote talk at the conference.
However, due to unknown reasons, the organisers decided to downgrade the keynote to a regular talk. In his blog, Meneide stated, “These were shadowy decisions that are non-transparent to normal contributors like myself”. Reportedly, this was done at the request of the Rust Project leadership, which is currently in the midst of a restructuring. Meneide then withdrew their talk entirely in protest.
This led to an uproar within the community, as Meneide is a well-known figure in both Rust and C communities. In response to this mismanagement, one of the main contributors to the Rust project, JT, stepped down. In a tweet, they stated, “I just hope it’s clear to everyone that the core issue is that Meneide wasn’t treated with respect, and has failed many times…That’s why I stepped down.”
In an accompanying blog, they also stated that the Rust organisation ‘disgraced’ one of the foremost experts in the field. This sentiment was also echoed by the community, with many believing that this was a disgrace to Meneide.
Due to the attention surrounding this controversy, the community decided to again turn to one of the mainstays of open source: forking. During the trademark fiasco, a group of developers from the Rust community had forked the language into another one they called ‘Crab’. In an obvious dig at the Rust community being called Rustaceans, this fork was dismissed as a ‘ridiculous gesture’ by the founder of the Rust foundation.
However, with this renewed distaste towards the management of Rust, the fork saw more attention. According to GitHub star history, Crab saw around 1900 stars during the time of its launch in April. While this growth slowed down from April to May, only adding on 200 more stars, the controversy set its growth on fire.
The repo currently has 3675 stars, and while it has not set out to replace Rust, but to increase the amount of freedom people have while using it. In fact, we have seen this same pattern emerge in multiple open-source communities, with varying degrees of success.
Who gives a fork?
Some of the open-source community’s biggest projects are forks. Ubuntu, currently the world’s most popular Linux distribution, is a fork of Debian. Mozilla Firefox, which has the second-largest user base after Chrome, was forked from the Mozilla Application Suite. Various examples abound for successful forks, but there are also a lot of unsuccessful ones, which aren’t spoken about.
This shows the dual nature of forking open-source projects. They can either result in the creation of a new product that then builds its own ecosystem, or fade into obscurity as the main project continues to flourish. Some forks can even result in the momentum behind an open source project getting halted in its tracks.
One of the biggest examples of this is Bitcoin, and its fork Bitcoin Cash. While there is a heated debate on which one is better, the fact remains that contributors who could have been working on Bitcoin are now working on Bitcoin Cash. This splits the ecosystem in half, resulting in the division of the community.
However, Crab was not created with the intention to split apart or replace Rust. In their words, “We want to emphasise that we are not at odds with the project or the original language. Our main goal is to ensure that the community has an alternative that aligns with their values and desire for unrestricted use.”
While this does not seem to be a form like many others in the past, the fact that developers and members of the community have a choice is a cornerstone of open source. While this saga shows that even open source foundations, the so-called fountainhead of democracy and open governance, can fall behind, the spirit of open source is always there to push innovation.